Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bifrost Arts: Conference on Liturgy, Music & Space

In March of 2011 Bifrost Arts will be presenting a conference based on curriculum entitled "Liturgy, Music, & Space". The lineup of speakers and leaders looks to be incredible. I'm really excited about this. Here's what they say on their website:

Each week, we tell our congregations a story with how we use liturgy, how we use music, and how we use space in worship. Bifrost Arts has developed a small group and Sunday School curriculum entitled "Liturgy, Music, & Space" to help churches walk through a coherent, biblical view of how these elements of worship are forming us.
Join us from March 29-31 as we present this curriculum at a conference with lectures, workshops, and times of worship in St. Louis, Missouri with:
Nicholas Wolterstorff
Bryan Chapell
Greg Thompson
Kevin Twit
Betsy Steele Halstead
Isaac Wardell
& The Welcome Wagon.

Conference fee is $150. Discounts are available for students and church employees from small congregations.
So many reasons to be excited about this. Bryan Chapell wrote the amazing book "Christ Centered Worship" (which you can find a link to at the bottom right of the blog). The book has virtually revolutionized the way I approach the construction of a worship service. Kevin Twit is the founder of Indelible Grace. If you are a reader of my blog then you will know the major respect I have for Indelible Grace. We regularly use their hymns in our worship. Isaac Wardell is the masterful Creative Director of Bifrost Arts. I had the privilege to be led in worship by Isaac at the Crowder's Fantastical Conference. Wardell is the real deal. The Welcome Wagon were also at Crowder's conference. I even got to chat for a few minutes in the hotel lobby. They are amazing, humble, and authentic folks who create great art that accentuates the gospel.

I am going to try to make every effort to be there. It will be difficult since the conference is in the middle of the week but this is just too good to pass up!

If you want more information go to the Bifrost Arts website here, or their Facebook page here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Giving New Life to Old Hymns: Part II

In Part I we discussed 3 ways in which we can revive hymns in our local congregations. We briefly touched on the most prevalent way which is to Re-tune, that is, taking an old and often unfamiliar hymn text and writing an original tune for it. We went into a bit more detail for the other two; Rearrange and Rewrite. Today we will look at the last two ways in which we can serve our congregations by reviving hymns: Replace and Redeem.

This is perhaps the easiest way to give life to an old hymn. Replace the hymn text that is associated with a familiar tune with an unfamiliar text. With good judgment and common sense you should be able to do this with just about any old hymn text. Most hymns are written in a particular metre so that they might be sung to any number of tunes that are also in the same metre. Many people find it humorous that “Amazing Grace” can be sung to the tune of “Gilligan’s Isle” or “House of the Rising Sun” but the reason for this is because the text and tunes of all of these songs were written in what is known as Common Metre. Common Metre can also be read as This is simply a reference to the amount of syllables which are found on a particular line of the song. Line 1 has eight syllables while Line 2 has six.

There are all types of metres and most modern hymnals contain an index of metres so that you can easily match a text with a tune. I have flipped through my copy of Spurgeon’s “Our Own Hymn-Book” and have found a text in Common Metre at random: Hymn 494, written by Joseph Humphreys in 1743. You can easily sing this text to the tune we commonly use for “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”:

Come, guilty souls, and flee away
Like doves to Jesus’ wounds;
This is the welcome gospel-day
Wherein free grace abounds
God loved the church, and gave His Son
To drink the cup of wrath:
And Jesus says, He’ll cast out none
That come to Him by faith.

This is immensely simple and there are a million possibilities. Where I serve, we recently sang a song by Isaac Watts to the tune of “Jesus Paid it All”. The tune is known by most but the text is completely new to all. The tune for “Jesus Paid it All” is not exactly easily applicable for many older texts as the metre is a bit irregular, but finding and fitting a text was relatively painless.

The text I used by Watts was originally written in Small Metre, which is, however I had to tweak the wording slightly to fit the tune but I am confident that no harm was done to Watts’ original. For the refrain I simply used the last verse which serves as a fitting response for the other verses to revolve around. I have italicized the refrain below.

Sing His Bleeding Love
(to the tune of Jesus Paid it All)

Not all the blood of beasts
On Hebrew altars slain
Gives the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away the stain

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
Sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse removed;
O Praise the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing His bleeding love

My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of Thine,
Like a penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin

My soul looks back to see
The burdens Thou didst bear
Hanging on the cursed tree
And hopes her guilt was there

Another aspect of replacement is simply the opposite approach. Instead of replacing a familiar text with an unfamiliar one, try placing a familiar text with an unfamiliar tune. There are tons of tunes, all listed by metre, over at CyberHymnal. Do some clicking around and listen for some tunes that you believe might connect with your people, or find tunes that might capture a certain mood. Make note of those tunes and grab a familiar hymn text and match it with this unfamiliar tune. The result will be that the text is now sung in a different light, hopefully exposing truth in a fresh or greater way to your congregation.

Personally I would love to find an old tune hidden away that would re-energize a hymn like “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”. Such a great text that has become attached to a decent catchy tune, however to me the tune gives off a ‘1946 Tent Revival-ish’ kind of feeling that has the capability to become sappy and sentimental.

In some aspect every hymn that is tailored and tweaked is being redeemed in some form or another. In a previous example I showed how I used Rearranging and Rewriting to give new life to “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior”. That hymn has in a sense been redeemed and now serves useful in its new purpose to our congregation. In fact many songs I’ve tried to redeem are songs from the late 19th and early 20th century, mainly because the tunes are often familiar but the content is rather shoddy, or vise versa, the content is solid but the tune is pretty hokey.

But when I speak of Redeeming a hymn I also want our focus to be a little narrower. The way I am thinking of Redeeming is taking a hymn, or a verse from a hymn, and correcting it in such a way that it exposes the truth in a better way. This may be theological or grammatical and may call for removal or replacement or both.

As a side note I should mention that we should first determine if the hymn is worth redeeming at all. If the text is junk and the tune is junk then you should probably put it out of its misery. A song that is not worth redeeming to me is a song like “In the Garden”. Aside from it being a theological monstrosity, the text is sappy and the music is sappier. I am content to junk it.

But there are many hymns that are well loved and often times their flaws or shortcoming are overlooked. Again, we should always keep our congregational context in mind as we seek to redeem hymns. The word ‘fetter’ may be fine for a particular congregation while another congregation is left wondering what in the world a ‘fetter’ is. Here are a few things I have done:

The carol “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” is loved and sung by millions around Christmas time every year. It also has a great tune. But the problem with this carol is that there is no mention of Christ! There are subtle illusions to Jesus, but the song is essentially about singing angels and peace on earth. The reason for this becomes a bit clearer when we understand that the author, Edmund Sears, was a Unitarian who did not believe in the divinity of Christ. Knowing this, when it comes to selecting carols for worship what do we do with this old, beloved song? Do we scrap it or redeem it? I decided that for my congregation I would seek to redeem it. So I sat down with pen and paper and intentionally put Christ into the song while maintaining the flavor of the song so that this extra verse didn’t feel like it was out of place. Now the congregation sings these lines as either the first or last verse:

He came down from His heavn’ly throne
Into a world of death
And with His perfect sacrifice
the sinner now is blessed
Though as a Child in manger lay,
He still is Christ the King
“All glory be to God on high!”
the saints and angels sing

A simpler example of this might be the changing of a word or two simply for clarification. The gospel song “To God be the Glory” contains amazing lyrics, packed with the language of the atonement. However there are a few words that I have changed for clarification. During the first verse we sing of Jesus:

Who yielded his life, an atonement for sin
And opened the lifegate that all may go in

These words are true, but there remains the possibility that one may be led to believe that when Jesus “opened the lifegate that all may go in” that it includes those who enter in without faith or without belief in Jesus. To some this seems like a very minor issue. To myself, also, this is a fairly minor issue, but I would rather fix a minor, almost unnoticeable, crack before it gets chipped away and becomes a glaring hole in someone’s understanding of the gospel. So I changed the wording to:

And opened the lifegate, by faith enter in

I’ll admit that it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way but it get’s the point across and there is no confusion as to how one ‘goes in’.

When Charles Spurgeon was compiling a hymnbook for his people he amassed nearly 1000 hymn texts, yet he was compelled to compose a few hymns himself. In the preface to his hymnbook he writes, “The editor [Spurgeon] has inserted with great diffidence a very few of his own composition…and his only apology for so doing is the fact that…he could find no version at all fitted for singing, and was therefore driven to turn them into verse himself.” Spurgeon wrote new texts for his people because he knew his people. The reason given is that, in a few cases, he could find ‘no version at all fitted for singing’. This is a very subjective statement. Perhaps the church down the street would find it rather fitting to sing the very songs Spurgeon chose to substitute. Spurgeon understood his congregation and their context and served them accordingly. When you tailor and tweak these hymns for your congregation you are doing the same thing. You understand your congregation and their context and you serve them accordingly. Always remember that the treasury of hymns can be a toolbox for ministry.

I would love to hear what you have done to Retune, Rearrange, Rewrite, Replace, Redeem, and ultimately Revive hymns in service to your congregation.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Giving New Life to Old Hymns: Part I

I am so grateful for the abundance of hymnody that has been passed down to us throughout the ages. I am also grateful for the resurgence of these hymns through groups and ministries like Indelible Grace and Red Mountain Music. I really feel that one of the reasons this resurgence has some real oomph behind it is that reviving hymns accomplishes two important things at once: On one hand it establishes a real connection with our Christian forefathers and on the other it is immensely authentic.

The connection to the past is obvious, but I say that this reviving of hymns is authentic because it gives our congregation a real voice. We are able to say the same thing that Isaac Watts said but in our own context. The ability to take the texts of these old hymns and give them new life in the midst of our congregations is an amazing gift to the modern church. And again, while I am grateful that there are groups and churches out there doing this, I want to encourage the local church worship leader to begin doing this as well. As talented as Matthew Smith is, he ultimately doesn’t know your congregation like you do. You have your finger on the pulse of your congregation; you know their needs and what they need.

Beyond Re-Tuning
Much of the focus of this resurgence of hymns has been writing brand new tunes to old hymn texts. Though it is hardly a new concept, I’ve heard this idea cleverly called a Re-tune. This is the most obvious way hymns are being used in this resurgence, however the idea of giving life to old hymns doesn’t always have to end with a new tune. For local worship leaders the goal shouldn’t be writing a new tune, the goal should be serving your congregation with this ancient treasury of hymns. There are a variety of ways we can use hymns to serve our congregation aside from writing a brand new tune. I want to offer a few other suggestions beyond Re-tuning that will allow you to tailor hymns to serve your people.

Tailoring and Tweaking our Treasured Hymns
Inspired by the phrase Re-tune I have categorized a few ways we can tweak, tinker with, and tailor this massive treasure of hymnody we have at our disposal. Aside from a complete Re-tune I have come up with four ways in which we can do this: Rearrange, Rewrite, Replace, and Redeem. Some will overlap, but I believe we can utilize each one for the glory of God and the edification of our churches. We’ll look at two of these today and two in a later post.

One very easy way to give a hymn new life is by rearranging it. I find that this has worked best for me with some of the old familiar gospel songs that often have a refrain after each verse. A simple way to rearrange this type of song is to not sing the refrain after every verse. For example, for the song “The Solid Rock” you might begin with the refrain:

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand

Then sing Verse 1 followed by Verse 2. Only after Verse 2 would you sing the refrain once more. This is only a slight change but it will be breath of fresh air to a congregation who has sung it the same way for most of their life. Compare the arrangements side by side:

Normal      Rearranged
Verse 1       Refrain
Refrain        Verse 1
Verse 2       Verse 2
Refrain        Refrain
Verse 3       Verse 3
Refrain        Verse 4
Verse 4       Refrain

The trick however in rearranging is to not mess up the logic of the original text, so you likely wouldn’t sing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” in reverse or in a mixed order. But you can still rearrange a hymn by repeating a verse or portion of a verse at the end of a song. Use it as a tag to reinforce the theme of the hymn or to expose a particular truth that you want to drive home. In this case, at the end of “Come Thou Fount” you might repeat the middle of the last verse:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it
Seal it from Thy courts above

Rewriting is the opposite of Re-tuning. This is taking a familiar tune and writing brand new words to it. Perhaps a tragedy has taken place in the church and you cannot find the words to say in any particularly familiar hymn, nor does the congregation have the time to learn a new song during their heartbreak. Penning new lyrics to an old tune can be a powerful tool to serve your congregation well. If you are able to give your congregation new words to sing in a familiar way that meets them where they are, there is likely no better way a worship leader can serve people in a time of grief. This can be done for many different seasons in the life of a local church.

Rewriting can also be used to reinforce a certain theme or a particular truth that the pastor might be preaching on. This is a good way for you and your pastor to team up for the cause of the gospel. Again, familiarity with the context of your local congregation is key.

Rewriting can also be a good starting place for you and for those interested from your congregation to begin re-tuning your own hymns. Instead of worrying about an original tune, begin with a familiar tune. This instantly gives you a way to see if the words you write are singable and at the same time automatically provides a particular mood for your song. Perhaps you will be content to simply sing your new song with the old tune, but don’t be afraid to branch out every now and then and try a new tune. This is a great first step in hymn writing.

Below is an example of a Rewrite I did earlier this year with “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior”. I must admit it is only a partial rewrite because I only rewrote the refrain based on the verses. The reason for this rewrite is because I felt like this song had become a one trick pony. The only time we broke it out was after the sermon, and then we only sang the first verse and refrain. I had always felt that the remaining three verses were more powerful than the first, but the refrain always pulled us away from the truths explored in those verses. So I ditched the first verse and rewrote the refrain section based on its preceding verse. Instead of a constant refrain pleading to Jesus “Do not pass me by” there is now a logical progression that runs through the song from unbelief and sorrow, to salvation and grace, to eternal joy through Jesus. The tune remained the same, but now the song has been set free and we’re able to use this song in a more meaningful and purposeful way in our service. The verses are original and the italicized refrains are my additional rewrites.

Let Me at Thy Throne of Mercy
(to the tune of “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior”)

Let me at thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief
Kneeling there in deep contrition;
Help my unbelief
Jesus, Jesus help my unbelief!
Glorify the Father through my
sorrow, loss and grief

Trusting only in thy merit
Would I seek thy face
Heal my wounded, broken spirit
Save me by thy grace
Jesus, Jesus, save me by thy grace!
Through the cross have mercy on all
sinners in this place

Thou the spring of all my comfort
More than life to me
Whom have I on earth beside Thee?
Whom in heav’n but thee?
Jesus, Jesus; More than life to me!
Endless pleasure! Joy abounding!
All are found in Thee

In my next post I’ll discuss two more ways in which we can use the treasury of hymns to serve our congregation. In the meantime I hope that this post has encouraged you to begin not only selecting hymns, but utilizing them in skillful ways to serve your church.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Matthew Smith, Indelible Grace, and My Hymn Seminar Notes

Yesterday I attended a seminar on Hymns with Matthew Smith from Indelible Grace Music. If you are unfamiliar with Indelible Grace I would encourage you to check them out immediately. Indelible Grace is a group that Matthew Smith has participated in for about 10 years and they are rooted in the college ministry of the PCA called Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). They are doing something the church has done for a long time, which is putting hymn texts to modern music. It sounds simple enough but the practice, for the most part, has fallen by the wayside in our day and age of modern, cutting edge, happy-clappy worship songs. They are a driving force in the resurgence of hymnody today.

At the seminar Matthew Smith gave a brief history of his life as a worshipper and how he got involved with Indelible Grace. I was struck by how similar our stories are. He grew up in a Christian home, led worship for the youth group, and felt like a failed worshipper. Much of his guilt and feelings of failure were a direct result of the songs they sang and what he falsely thought worship should be. Matthew said he had a hard time explaining this feeling but I knew exactly what he was talking about. In some ways he felt as if worship meant that he had to ‘disconnect’ in some since and ‘attain’ a certain ‘level’ of worship for worship to actually occur. The songs they sung (as did I) were songs that said, “I want to” and “I will do” and he felt the weight of failure on his shoulders. Then he discovered RUF in college and was intrigued by two things; the acoustic guitar folk rock music caught his eye first, but what really kept him and drew him in were the hymns they were singing. The hymns placed all the emphasis on Jesus rather than on himself. Matthew had found that which released him of his feelings of guilt and failure in worship; instead of the world becoming a fuzzy disconnect that he always thought it should be, the world actually became more real, it became clearer and sharper in focus. I don’t know if this resonates with you but I completely understand where he is coming from, and so I found much encouragement and confirmation in my own story after hearing his.

After this Matthew gave a brief, but loaded presentation about why we need hymns and why he and Indelible Grace love the hymns so much. Before he began he made clear that when he talks about Hymns he uses the word ‘hymn’ as being distinguished from what many people consider as hymns, such as the Gospel Songs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Gather Music, etc.

I’ve listed the notes I took below. I summarized a bit but all of it is derived from what Matthew said.

Hymns engage our:

Imagination – Hymns paint a picture and they can be both personal and universal at the same time

Intellect – Hymns make you think about what you are singing – they help people engage or participate in worship more fully – the over all theme of a hymn should be understood after singing it once, but it needs to be sung over and over to better understand it.

Will – Hymns make you want to live differently rather than telling you to live differently – they have a shaping quality that assists the singer to change certain beliefs – Hymns say things you don’t want to say

Emotions – Hymns effect our emotions without being emotionalism and without manipulation – When you cry to a country song, it’s because the songwriter wanted/intended for you to cry. When you cry to a hymn it is because the hymn writer is crying with you. We share the emotion with the writer. (Matthew used the country song example because he knows of artists in Nashville that do it.)

Hymns are:

True – Hymns tell the truth about who we are and who God is

Good Theology – Hymns contain good (sound) theology – Kevin Twit says “Hymns are theology on fire” which means that hymns convey theology not in a stoic or stagnant kind of way, but it gives theology life and it spreads and is efficacious

Beautiful – Hymns are not just a tool to be used for practical purposes, ie. Just to teach, or for evangelism, etc (I tend to be guilty of this) – Art that is only practical is propaganda – ‘beauty’ does not equal ‘pretty’, beauty can be ugly – bad art lies and at it’s worst lies about the human condition

(As a side note I would add on my own that Hymns are also authentic. In that they were written most often for the hymn writer’s local congregation to aid in worship rather than written to be sold as a product to consume. I wish I would have thought of this during the discussion time to hear Matthew’s thoughts…anyway, back to the notes.)

Good Writing and Bad Writing

CS Lewis – he referred us to what Lewis had to say about the difference between good and bad writing. Although he didn't quote it, this is the quote he was referring to:
'In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please, will you do my job for me.”'
Bad Writing tells you how to feel (ie. That woman is beautiful)

Good Writing describes and displays the woman in such a way that the reader can only come away with the conclusion that the woman is a knockout.

According to this criterion, hymns would be considered “Good Writing” whereas most modern day praise songs would likely be considered “Bad Writing”. Where a modern praise song might say, “Jesus is amazing” a hymn would take three or four lines (or maybe the whole song!) describing and displaying Jesus in such a way that the singer can only come away with the conclusion that Jesus is amazing.

Then we moved into a Q&A/Discussion time that produced some great food for thought:

When asked what makes a hymn a hymn (as in distinction to modern songs) Smith said it has much to do with the form of the hymn. The secret weapon/advantage of the hymn is that it is Verse, Verse, Verse, Verse and develops a thought without interruption (the interruption typically being a chorus). But he was quick to point out that the chorus in many songs are not bad, but the verses of these songs tend to point only to the chorus so the development of thought isn’t always as strong as a hymn.

When discussing archaic language Matthew was not against changing language so that modern readers might understand, but he also felt it was perfectly fine to leave archaic language as it was written just the same. In doing so the singer will have to think and learn. He said he doesn’t have a rule about it because a hard and fast rule such as this destroys art.

The best part of the discussion was when the topic became sadness or darkness (in a sad since) in hymns as opposed to happy, peppy, chipper songs. Before I attended this it was a strong conviction of mine that the church must sing songs that prepare people for suffering, and sing them every week, and after listening to this discussion I am even more encouraged and fully strengthened that my conviction is valid. Here are four quotes that I wrote down during that discussion:

- When planning a service or when selecting songs: “Never aim for happy—always aim for joy.”

- “Mournfulness in songs doesn’t equal Mopey-ness.”

- “Jesus was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. If your songs don’t reflect that you’re picking the wrong songs.”

- In discussing how people at an A.A. meeting can often times be more honest than at church and how the church is a place for broken people: “The church should be a place where if you boast in yourself you should look stupid. Go play golf stupid.”

Following the seminar was a concert with Matthew and the Indelible Grace band. These guys not only love hymns and make a great case for them, they make excellent music for us to sing them to. I praise God for Indelible Grace and others who continue to put great music to great hymn texts.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Crowder's Fantastical Church Music Conference

At the end of September, my wife and I (and baby Arwen) will be travelling to Waco, Texas to attend David Crowder’s Fantastical Church Music Conference. This is a conference that seems a little outside of the box, which I really like. But ultimately there are 3 things that really drew me to the conference. 1) It is a conference on church music 2) The amazing line-up of speakers and artists 3) It looks to contain a sizeable Reformed Voice.

A Conference about Church Music

I like that they say that this is a ‘church music’ conference. This is a great umbrella word that covers both music produced by the church for worship and music produced by the church for art. The reason I’m psyched about this is because it’s the first ‘popular’ conference I’ve seen that doesn’t confuse the two from the outset. There are a million ‘Worship Conferences’ that have nothing to do with worship (or worship music for that matter…). Here are a few (subject to change) workshops they list:

Songwriting - Speaking The Collaborative Language of Music During Worship vs. Learning Worship Tunes Verbatim from the Latest and Greatest CDs - The Functional Limits of Creativity - A Short History of Church Music - Worship and Justice - From Sunday to Sunday: A New Old Vision for Worship; Liturgical Spirituality for Post-Modern-Semi-Reformed-Hipsters - Tech and Production
If they survive the cut I’m really looking forward to attending Songwriting, The Collaborative Language vs Learning Worship Tunes Verbatim, and A New Old Vision for Worship.

Speakers and Artists

I am really excited for the speakers and artists that they have lined up. In one panel discussion alone are three of my biggest modern influences on worship, worship music, and songwriting; Bob Kauflin, Matt Redman, and Derek Webb. Just these three guys together would be enough to get me down to Texas. But alongside the big names like David Crowder Band and Hillsong are some lesser known groups like Bifrost Arts and The Civil Wars. For guys like me, I’d rather listen to Bifrost Arts over Hillsong any day. I’m really looking forward to hearing some of the other artists I’m not familiar with.

But there will be more than just opposing styles of music, there will be some clashing theologies as well. One of the big name speakers is Rob Bell. Now one thing Rob Bell has going for him is that he’s really cool and hip. But Rob Bell is pretty far out there theologically. I think it will be interesting to see the contrast between Bell and let’s say, Bob Kauflin or Francis Chan. So the divide theologically and stylistically in the artists and speakers who will be there will be interesting to witness firsthand.

Sizeable Reformed Voice

I would first say that this in no way appears to be a “Reformed” conference. The presence of Rob Bell and a few others puts to death that idea. It appears that the conference is aiming at (what one of the workshops calls) Post-Modern-Semi-Reformed-Hipsters. But you really can’t deny the influence of Reformed theology on many of the speakers and artists. And it’s not only that many of them adhere to Reformed theology, but they all seem to come from different streams of Reformed theology, most of whom I’ve already mentioned. You have the Passion guys Louis Giglio and Matt Redman, Sovereign Grace Pastor Bob Kauflin, Francis Chan, and Derek Webb. Crowder is a reformed guy in the Passion stream as well. I’m excited to see and hear from these guys in the midst of a conference that seems to reach out to, not only the reformed, but to the ‘emerging’ and what I’d call the ‘Pop-American Christianity’ crowds. So I wouldn’t call this event a ‘Reformed Conference’—it would be more accurate to describe it as a conference that includes a sizeable and influential Reformed voice. And to be honest, the fact that this is not a ‘reformed conference’ makes it that much more attractive. I’ve been to those and you know exactly what you’re going to get (both positively and negatively…).

In Summation

So my overall impression of this conference is that it is going to be fun and interesting. I’m looking forward to the info coming from the guys who’ve inspired me, ready to hear some music I’m not familiar with, and ready to connect and network with some like minded folks down in Texas.

If you are a reader of Sound Doxology and you are attending this conference I would love to hook up with you! Just drop me a line in the comments below or shoot me an email at sounddoxology AT gmail DOT com and let’s set something up.

(And if you happen to be speaking at the conference or performing I’d love to hook up with you as well. I promise to say something nice about you on my blog... Perhaps an interview?…I don’t know, have your people call my people, let’s do lunch...)

Friday, August 6, 2010

KC Worship Conference Update

Wornall Road Baptist Church has just posted more info about the upcoming WorshipKC10 Conference with Don Whitney and Ron Owens including the Schedule. I've listed all the info below.


Saturday August 14, 2-9PM
Wornall Road Baptist Church, Kansas City, MO


Dr. Don Whitney serves as Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he also serves as Senior Associate Dean. Before that, he held a similar position (the first such position in the six Southern Baptist seminaries) at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, for ten years. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. He is the author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, How Can I Be Sure I'm A Christian, Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Simplify Your Spiritual Life, and Family Worship.

Ron Owens and his wife Patricia have been used by God in an amazing ways for decades all over the world. Serving alongside Manley Beasley, Ron was co-founder and co-director of International Congress on Revival. He also served alongside Stephen Olford. From 1991 – 2000 he served as associate to Henry Blackaby in the Office of Prayer and Spiritual Awakening at the North American Mission Board. The Owens served as worship consultants to the International Mission Board. Their published writings include: Return to Worship They Could Not Stop The Music, Worship: Believers Experiencing God (Co-authored with Henry Blackaby) Manley Beasley: Man of Faith, Instrument of Revival, Iris: Trophy of Grace.


Saturday August 14
1:00– 2:00 PM Registration, bookstore and coffee shop open
2:00-3:00 Worship and Revival with Ron Owens
3:00-4:00 Dr. Don Whitney Reforming worship part 1
4:00-4:15 Break
4:15– 4:45 Worship and Revival with Ron Owens
4:45– 6:15 Dr. Don Whitney Reforming worship part 2
6:15– 7:00 Dinner served and questions and answers from Ron and Don
7:00- 7:30 Worship and Revival with Ron Owens
7:30– 9:00 Dr. Don Whitney Reforming worship part 3

Sunday August 15
9:30– 10:30 Dr. Don Whitney an introduction to Spiritual Disciplines in the worship center, open to everyone
10:45– 12:00 Worship with Ron Owens, ordination of three pastor leaders by Wornall Road Baptist Church and the sermon by Dr. Whitney

Sunday evening Sycamore Hills Baptist Church in Independence would like to host Ron for an evening of Sermon and Song.


In the work of reforming a local church, no area is more important than reformation in worship. This conference helps to build the Biblical basis for and provides practical steps to reforming congregational worship. The teaching is suitable for the entire church body, but it also works well for the pastoral staff, church leadership, and/or the worship leadership team.

With Dr. Whitney leading us, this conference is built upon two major principles. First, worship is focusing on and responding to God. Biblical worship is, of course, the worship of God. Therefore everything in the worship service should be focused on God. And because of the greatness of the One focused upon, however much that we focus upon Him, to that degree we will respond in worship.

Second, worship is to be done in Spirit and truth. While most true believers have a general idea of what it means to worship in Spirit, few have a clear grasp of what it means to worship in truth. The failure to measure worship by this standard Dr. Whitney believes, has led to most church conflicts over worship.

Ron Owens will guide us in worship and share powerful truths about the relationship between revival and worship. Ron has an abundance of knowledge of Revivals in various times and places. Understanding more about true revival will help us embrace true, God focused worship.


Move deep into the heart and substance of worship at Worshipkc10. Worship is not just a verb. Too much of our worship is focused on our experience, on our feelings, on performance, on light , sound , video, on our preferences or getting us ready and worked up to hear the sermon. No wonder our people are confused about worship. Unpack the true Biblical nature of worship in the local church. Understand the role of worship in the life of the church and in the life of the Christian. Listen to, learn from and share with two of the most experienced and gifted leaders teaching on worship in the world today. If you attend one worship conference this year, make sure it is Worshipkc10 - Not for wimps.


At Wornall Road we love the deep things of God and great BBQ. A BBQ dinner is available at no cost. If you know you are coming please text or call 816.260.3332 by August 12 to let us know how many in your group will be sharing dinner with us. You can also register for dinner the day of the event before 3PM. (we will take donations to offset the cost of the meal)

There will be a bookstore with Don & Ron’s books and other related resources.


This very unique event is sponsored by Wornall Road Baptist Church and our partners, The Spurgeon Baptist Association of Churches and the Blue River - Kansas City Baptist Association.

With a desire to increase the passion for and knowledge of Biblical worship, we are pleased to provide this entire conference at no cost to the participants.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

John Newton, 285 Years Old Today

John Newton was born July 24th 1725. However, after Britain switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, Newton himself considered his birthday to be on August 4th. So 285 years ago on this day John Newton was born.
John Newton was so much more than just the man who wrote Amazing Grace. His life and conversion are as if pulled straight out of an adventure novel. His marriage and love for his wife put to shame any romance movie. His friendship with William Cowper is legendary and worthy of emulation.

The impact he has had on not only Christianity, but the entire world is simply astonishing. I am continually amazed (but more and more less surprised) every time I come across some great event or great movement or great man of God and find that I can trace it back somehow to Newton. Most people know that Newton was instrumental in William Wilberforce’s life. It is not hard to imagine that if there were no Newton there would be no Wilberforce and who knows how long slavery would have endured in England (and quite possibly America).

Perhaps a lesser known story is the part that Newton played in the beginning of the modern missions movement. When people think of modern missions the name William Carey comes to mind. But Newton plays a large role behind the scenes in this as well. Newton wrote constantly, advising and encouraging and training a young John Ryland, who along with Carey formed the first missionary society. Ryland was one of “three ropes” that held Carey as the “Father of Modern Missions” went off to preach the gospel in India. Not only did Newton play a large part in Ryland’s life, but also directly influenced William Carey himself. When Carey realized the near impossibility it was for missionaries to enter into India (due to the trade regulations and policies of the East India Company) he sought out Newton for advice. Carey asked what he should do if he was unable to enter and Newton replied, “Then conclude that your God has nothing there for you to accomplish. But if He has, no power on earth can hinder you." These words gave Carey the tremendous strength to carry on. Again, the case could be made that if there were no Newton then there would be no Ryland and if there were no Ryland there would be one less person to “hold the ropes” for William Carey. The mission society would not have been started and it is doubtful that Carey would have even made the trip, especially without the crucial advice and encouragement from John Newton.

And these examples are only the tip of the iceberg. It would take a scholarly work to figure out the exact impact John Newton has made (and continues to make) throughout the world and I doubt one could do it accurately. To say that John Newton’s life had a ripple effect would be an understatement. The man was a tidal wave.

Theologically Newton was a Calvinist, however he likened his Calvinism in preaching and his writings as sugar being mixed and dispersed in a cup of tea. It is abundantly evident when you read Newton because his lips are laced with the sovereignty of God. You cannot avoid it.

Instead of outright attacking heresy and false teachings Newton felt that, “The best method of defeating heresy is by establishing the truth.” This, I believe, is a major reason why Newton could be friends with both George Whitfield and the Wesley’s and remain friends with both parties even after Whitfield and the Wesley brothers bitterly split over theological differences. The friendships were so deep in fact that Charles Wesley requested that Newton be a pallbearer at his funeral. This spirit of gentleness and kindness mixed with an unflinching stand on truth and sound doctrine is what attracted and still attracts so many to John Newton. John Piper desires that Pastors would imitate John Newton by being “as strong and durable as redwood trees, and as tender and fragrant as a field of clover—unshakably rugged in the "defense and confirmation" of the truth, and relentlessly humble and patient and merciful in dealing with people.”

I could go on, and I’m tempted to do so, but I hope that the previous paragraphs have inspired you, at least a little, to do some research about John Newton on your own. I’ll only add that I cannot say enough about John Newton. The more I find out about him the greater I admire him. I find that I can relate to him in ministry and I strive to imitate his example. Simply put, he’s my hero.

Links on John Newton for further research:

Worship Leaders: Imitate John Newton - previous Sound Doxology post
John Newton's Approach to Hymn Writing - previous Sound Doxology post
John Piper Sermon on John Newton - simply excellent
The Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney - lots of good info and pictures
The John Newton Project - possibly the best John Newton site on the web
Thank God for John Newton - from Desiring God
John Newton's Olney Hymns - pdf version. must have.
Cardiphonia - from Google Books. These are Newton's collection of letters
Letters of John Newton

The Works of John Newton (6 Volumes)

Wise Counsel: John Newton's Letters to John Ryland Jr.

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace

Out of the Depths (Newton's Autobiography)

Friday, July 30, 2010

KC Worship Conference with Dr. Don Whitney and Ron Owens

I am really excited for this upcoming conference on Biblical Worship that is being hosted at my church in August. Don Whitney (who is pretty much the man) will be our main speaker alongside Ron Owens. It's an all day event that includes a BBQ dinner and there is no cost!

Dr. Don Whitney is the Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and is the author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Back when Don was a professor at Midwestern here in Kansas City I was privileged to be present on a couple occasions when he taught and preached at a local church. His lessons on Spiritual Disciplines has had a lasting impression on me (especially actually resting on the Sabbath) and I often go to his website for his articles and advice on worship.

Ron Owens has worked alongside Henry Blackaby in worship ministry for many years and is the author of the book Return to Worship: A God Centered Approach. I ran across this excellent book about 10 years ago. It was a very key book early in my ministry that struck a pretty severe blow to my faulty understanding of worship. I am thankful to God that I read this book at a relatively young age (around 17 or 18) and I can definitely look back at that time period as a pivot point in much of my theology of worship and Ron's book played a large part in that. His website is here.

Not only will these men be in town for the Worship Conference but they will also be here for an ordination service for three men, including myself. Dr. Don Whitney will be preaching and Ron Owens will be leading worship. I am humbled at God's grace and gifts and am greatly anticipating that day.

If you live in driving distance to the KC area this is conference is definitely a must. If you live a little further out and need to stay overnight, contact our church (info below) and we'll point you to some good hotels or whatever you need. You will simply not find another Worship Conference in the Midwest of this quality for free.

Further Information about the Worship Conference:

WorshipKC10- Not for Wimps

A major conference on Biblical Worship will be held Saturday August 14 from 2 to 9 PM at Wornall Road Baptist Church. Our two featured leaders will be Dr. Don Whitney of Southern Seminary and Ron Owens, who for many years was the ministry associate to Henry Blackaby.

WorshipKC10 is an ideal conference for pastors, worship leaders and their ministry teams, and will benefit anyone who desires to learn more about Biblical Worship.

We are passionate about worship and helping others learn about worship so there is no cost for this event and a BBQ dinner with our two speakers is included. The conference and the dinner are free so come hungry for the Word and hungry for some excellent KC BBQ!

Please respond via Facebook or contact the church office at 816.444.8900 or so we can have a headcount for dinner. And be sure to check out for more info!

And be sure to stay tuned, I'll be posting the upcoming Schedule for the conference soon!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blog Partners with Westminister Bookstore

I am happy and honored to announce Sound Doxology's new partnership with Westminister Bookstore through their Blog Partners program. Through this program Westminister Bookstore has given me a personal address so that I may link to their website from my blog.

The program is actually pretty cool, especially for this blog. It gives me the opportunity to show you guys some awesome resources and books offered by Westminister Bookstore (something I have done and would have done anyway) while at the same time giving me the opportunity to earn credit at their store. I earn credit when readers click the links I post from Westminister Bookstore. You can read more about it here.

Here's the deal. Even before this partnership Westminister Bookstore ( was the place I went to for two reasons: selection and price. You will not find junk here. Everything they carry is solid theologically. You can trust what they carry is the best. And they carry the hard to find books too! Books like this. Not only that, but you really can't beat their prices. When I first discovered Westminister Bookstore a few years back I was on the lookout for The Reformation Study Bible by Ligonier Ministries. I couldn't find the leather bound edition anywhere for under $60. But was selling it for under $40! (and they still are...)

I'll add this too. Last year, when I purchased Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell they sent along with the book a CD and a letter explaining that Bryan Chapell had recently preached at Westminister and they thought that I'd also enjoy his sermon. I don't know how common it is for them to send along free stuff with the purchased product, but I really liked that they did that. I think it speaks to the integrity and character of those who run the store.

All of that just to say that I really do like and use and recommend Westminister Bookstore. They aren't telling me what to advertise and I wouldn't recommend anything to you that I didn't personally use or trust.

I'll be straight with you. I love me some free books. But I also love to give my readers good information regarding worship and all things related to sound doxology. So this partnership is a win-win situation. So if you're looking for a place to find some good books please consider stopping by Sound Doxology first, clicking the links for books and other resources I put up here on the blog (and not just the ones from wtsbooks either!). They are solid resources; resources I have and would have recommended anyway. And it'll help me out a bit too. (It'll help me save up for the awesome 6 volume collection of The Works of John Newton!)

Many thanks to Westminister Bookstore for such an awesome idea!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Give 'Em Watts, Boys!"

“The Battle of Springfield” - June 23rd, 1780
Six-thousand British troops invaded New Jersey with full force. The opposing American forces were outnumbered 5 to 1. The British slowly pushed the Americans back, deeper into Springfield, New Jersey. Despite being pushed back the American defense was holding and the British were taking a beating. But during the battle the American troops ran out of wading for their muskets. This would have likely been their downfall had it not been for the quick thinking of Rev. James Caldwell. Caldwell and his men fell back to a Presbyterian church and Caldwell ran inside gathering all the hymnals he could find—which were at that time Isaac Watts’ editions—and began flinging them to the men, yelling as he did so, “Give ‘em Watts, boys! Put Watts into ‘em!” and instructing them to “fill the British with doctrine from the hymnals.” The battle waged on and the British eventually retreated and never invaded New Jersey again.

"Give 'Em Watts, Boys!"
Two things pop out at me when I read that story. The first is that it is such a good story it is almost unbelievable. It seems like it comes directly from a Hollywood script. But the story is true and very well documented. In fact the phrase “Give ‘em Watts, boys!” has lived on as a motto in that region.

The second thing that hits me is how that motto could (and should) be used today in the church. I want to revitalize it and give it new meaning. I want to use it as a new battle cry, but this time instead of using it to inspire men to pump Red Coats full of lead I want it to inspire men to use and continue using the great hymns of our faith. I have yet to encounter any songwriter or lyricist who can capture the gospel in poetic English the way in which Watts, Wesley, Newton and other hymn writing giants have done. This is not to say that we should only sing Watts and those like him (though we would hardly be at a disadvantage if we did), but rather we should not abandon the songs and hymns these men have given to us. I am all for writing new music and new words. Every generation should do it! But I am not for discarding that which has come before us, as is the unfortunate habit (or is it philosophy?) of many churches. I am convinced that a church’s theology is more likely determined by the songs they sing rather than their written statement of faith. And at a time when many churches are considered trite or flippant or even weak, a little Watts could serve as a shot in the arm, maybe even a catalyst for change.

If I had a group of worship leaders, pastors or any manner of church leaders before me, I would encourage them to either bring back or continue steadfastly using the old hymns for their congregations. I would bark at them like a General, “Load ‘em up with Wesley!” “Put Newton into ‘em!” “Give ‘em Watts, Boys! Give ‘em Watts!”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Worship Ministry Advice via The Resurgence

The Resurgence has posted a few advice articles dealing with worship ministry that I think are great. They are short and sweet and to the point. Something that I should probably work on…

So far they’ve released three excellent articles. The first two are by worship pastor Joel Brown:

His first is: 3 Priorities When Preparing Music

Great, great stuff.

Priority #1 – Truth

Priority #2 – Corporate Response

Priority #3 – Musical Style, Arrangement, and Execution

The second article by Brown: The Medium Matters: Is Music as Important as the Message?

This is an incredibly important message for worship leaders. When we look at the music we select we should always consider the words we sing first, then the music, but that doesn’t mean music takes a back seat! Music should complement the words in such a way as to amplify them. I’ve written more about that here.

And as much as I agree with everything in this article, I do want to point out one small matter that perhaps could use some further clarification by the author. When speaking of diversity he says, “A good sign that you have the right balance of styles is if every congregant has one band they love and one band they hate.” I understand what the author is getting at, but practically speaking I don’t think this is something we should aim for. I’m all for diversity, but I don’t think churches necessarily need 12 different bands with 12 different styles. But that’s all I disagree with, if you can even call it a disagreement.

The last and most recent article is by worship pastor Tim Smith:

Don’t Forget Your Acoustic Guitar

Instead of focusing on practical issues for worship leaders, Tim gives props to the acoustic guitar. He talks about the benefits of leading with only an acoustic and how it can build you up as a leader as well as allowing you more freedom. Sorry keyboard players…

If you have never visited The Resurgence then you are missing out on some great and wonderful teaching. I would encourage you to visit it on a weekly basis.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Personal Worship Experience vs Corporate Worship

I ran across two excellent pieces today concerning the “personal worship experience” and “corporate worship.” The first is an article from Christianity Today called “The End of Christianity as We Know It.” You can read the article here. The author, Mark Galli, discusses what has become known as the ‘worship experience’ and the similar effects a ‘worship experience’ produces compared to hallucinogenic drugs. It is a good article that exposes North American Christianity’s obsession with the worship experience. Here are a couple of quotes from the article:
“It's a lot of work to fast and pray and worship and deny oneself—and even then, experiencing God is a hit or miss proposition! What's the fuss if we can pop a mushroom and have a nearly guaranteed religious experience?”

“If religious experience is something that a drug can induce even more easily than spiritual ritual and disciplines, it may be time, for example, to rethink what many churches are trying to do on Sunday morning: create a memorable "worship experience."”
“We are shortchanging our people when we make worship mostly about experience or a pep rally to motivate people to good deeds. We practice religious neglect when we fail to witness to them the saving story of God in Christ and train them to be fellow witnesses of that story, so that they might share that story with a world that does not know its left hand from its right.”

After reading this article Dr. Ed Steele, Associate Professor of Music at the Leavell College of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, reflects at his excellent blog Worship HeartCries about ‘corporate worship’ and the ‘personal experience’ by asking the question: What is Congregational Worship?

It is apparent from his post that Dr. Steele has been pondering this subject for a while but the connection to the Christianity Today article must have inspired him to write. Dr. Steele does a fantastic job pointing out that the solution to the ‘personal experience’ is found in true, biblical, corporate worship. Dr. Steele also does a fine job portraying the line between personal worship and corporate worship, a subject that I see too many times being overlooked which, in my opinion, then becomes the root for the ‘personal worship experience.’
Dr. Steele ends with five things that should happen on Sunday morning when we gather for corporate worship:
1. We must teach what biblical worship is and isn’t. There are still many people that believe that “the music is the worship...”

2. Personal worship is indispensable. We must feed daily on God’s Word; we must immerse ourselves in His presence in prayer. There are no substitutes for personal time with the Father.

3. Personal worship is not a substitute for corporate worship. We are baptized into the Body of Christ and are members of His body. There is no biblical idea of a member of the body existing apart from the body.

4. Corporate worship must facilitate worship that centers itself around Jesus Christ as His Body. The focus of corporate worship is not a focus on personal experience.

5. We must begin to learn what it means to live and worship as the Body of Christ. Personal preference is willingly subjugated for the good of the whole body.

There is much more that could be said about these topics but for now I would encourage you to read both of these articles. I would love to see this discussion continue and take a higher priority throughout the church. Please feel free to start that discussion in the comments section!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Worship Leaders: Imitate William Gadsby and Charles Spurgeon

"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." -Hebrews 13:7

In the time span of over 50 years two hymnbooks were published in the 19th century. William Gadsby published his hymnbook, now known as Gadsby’s Hymns, in 1814 (and later in 1838) and Charles Spurgeon published his hymnbook, known as Our Own Hymn-book, in 1866. Both men compiled these hymnbooks in a very comparable fashion and I think it is worth our time to find out why and imitate their example.

While both men have many admirable qualities that would be beneficial for Christians to study and emulate, I want to focus on the strikingly similar pastoral concern that both men had for their congregations concerning the worship of God through singing. From reading the preface of each hymnbook we discover the reasons why Gadsby and Spurgeon made the effort to compile their hymnbooks in the first place. I want to take a look at what reasons both of these men gave in their own words and see how we might benefit as worship leaders by imitating these two great men of faith.

Gadsby’s Reasons

When Gadsby became the pastor of his church they had already been established in singing hymns from Watts, Hart, and from Rippon’s Selection. He writes, “Though some of these hymns are big with the important truths of God, there are others…which give as legal a sound as if they had been forged at a certain foundry. This was one reason which induced me to publish a selection. Another was, we had three editions of Hart’s Hymns amongst us, either differently arranged or differently paged; so that when any of those hymns were given out, one part of the congregation was unable to find them. These circumstances, together with a desire in my own breast and the express wish of others to have a selection of hymns in one book free from Arminianism, and sound in the faith, that the church might be edified and God glorified, were what induced me to attempt this work.”
(For Gadsby's Preface click here)

Spurgeon’s Reasons

Spurgeon wrote a bit more about why he felt it necessary to compile a hymnbook but we can gather his primary motives through the following excerpts:

“Our congregation has long used two hymn-books [Watts and Rippon]…and we should most probably have been very well content with those books had it not been for difficulties connected with the remarkably complex arrangement of their content. To strangers it was no small task to discover the hymn selected for singing; for, in the first place, there were two books, which was in itself an evil; but the matter was made far worse by the fact that these two volumes were each a puzzle to the uninstructed…We felt that such ought not to be the state of our service of song.”

“None of the collections already published are exactly what our congregation needs, or we would have cheerfully adopted one of them…Our congregation has distinctive features which are not suited to every compilation, not indeed by any known to us.”

“Subjects frequently passed over or pushed into a corner are here made conspicuously the themes of song; such, for instance, as the great doctrines of sovereign grace, the personal Advent of our Lord, and especially the sweetness of present communion with Him.”
(For Spurgeon’s Preface click here)

Concern for Order, Unity and Intelligibility

Both men laud the efforts of the likes of Dr. Watts’ and Dr. Rippon’s collections but they understood that the way in which their congregations used these wonderful resources hindered worship greatly. The collections were contained in multiple volumes and editions which lead to endless page-flipping and book switching after every song. Various editions of the same hymnbook would produce confusion as to which hymn number the congregation was going to be singing and certain verses might be laid out in a different order or omitted altogether.

The lack of a uniform means of presenting songs no doubt led to an improperly ordered service. The lack of participation due to these reasons led to disunity. Both of which led to unintelligibility of praises. Spurgeon writes, “The providence of God brings very many new hearers within the walls of our place of worship, and many a time we have marked their futile researches, and pitied the looks of despair with which they have given up all hope of finding the hymns, and so of joining intelligently in our words of praise.”

These men saw a problem and out of their concern for congregational order, unity and intelligibility they produced a hymnbook which accomplished all three. Not only did this solution edify the church, but it also broke down unnecessary barriers to unbelievers who might visit.

Concern for Sound Doctrine

It is apparent that both men had a deep concern for their congregations to have a steady diet of sound doctrine in their hymns. Gadsby introduces his hymnbook with Psalm 47:7 “sing ye praises with understanding.” Both men were aware of the educational impact of hymns and sought to squelch shoddy theology and emphasize that which is good. Spurgeon made it a priority to not only include doctrinal songs but to highlight them and push them to the forefront of congregational singing. Gadsby, a true Strict Baptist of his time and a man of stronger backbone than most today, found it necessary to not only emphasize sound doctrine, but to make sure his collection was devoid of Arminian theology. Here both men are truly acting like Shepherds for their congregation; guarding, tending and feeding all at the same time.

Concern for Their Flock
Ultimately these men cared greatly and deeply for their congregations. They wanted to see the praises of God sung orderly, with unity and intelligibility, through sound doctrine “that the church might be edified and God glorified.” And while I am sure that these men loved the Church universal, it is abundantly apparent that they loved their local congregations very, very deeply. The hymnbooks that they produced for their churches are landmarks of this love. That Spurgeon’s compilation became known as Our Own Hymn-book is evidence enough that the local church was the primary focus of the project.

Gadsby and Spurgeon knew their congregations intimately enough to recognize that they couldn’t just copy or mimic another congregation. They needed to produce something specifically for their people. Spurgeon recognized that his congregation’s “distinctive features [were] not suited to every compilation.” Gadsby gave ear to the “express wish of others” concerning content for the hymnal.

Another indication of the love and concern these men had for their flock is the fact that they composed hymns for them. Gadsby composed and included over 150 hymns in his compilation. Spurgeon composed several himself and tells us why. “The editor [Spurgeon] has inserted with great diffidence a very few of his own composition, chiefly among the Psalms, and his only apology for so doing is the fact that of certain difficult Psalms he could find no version at all fitted for singing, and was therefore driven to turn them into verse himself.” Spurgeon knew what his congregation needed and he supplied it, however hesitantly, out of love.

An additional point we should consider is the way in which both men seem to be plainly aware of Christian Pop-culture’s influence on their congregational music. In deciding how to shape his hymnbook Charles Spurgeon writes,
“We have not cast about for models suggesting by the transient fancy of the hour, but we have followed the indications given us in the word of God and the long established usage of the universal church; desiring to be obedient to the sacred precept, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
And Gadsby takes aim at Watts and Rippon’s work, saying that some of their hymns “give as legal a sound as if they had been forged at a certain foundry.” The imagery he offers is that these popular songs, which are gospel-less, are being pumped out of the same mold (sound familiar?). Neither Spurgeon nor Gadsby attempted to copy Christian pop-culture but instead “followed the indications given us in the word of God.” And this was done out of a love for their church.

What This Means for Us

There is much we can learn from William Gadsby and Charles Spurgeon and their compilation of hymns for their congregations. Though we could spend hours discussing ways in which we could imitate these men (and I hope this does spur more discussion!), I want to look at three concerns they had that we would be wise to imitate in our ministries.
1) Imitate their concern for order, unity and intelligibility in worship. What is it that hinders any of these aspects as it relates to your congregational worship service? What are you going to do to remove those hindrances? Is it a visual issue? A sound system issue? A leadership issue? Whatever the case, I encourage you to read through 1 Corinthians 14 and prayerfully consider those things that hinder orderly, united, intelligible worship.

2) Imitate their concern for sound doctrine. Don’t just throw in a song every now and then because it has a lot of doctrine. I encourage you to make doctrinal songs a priority in your congregational singing! Emphasize theology! The more you know about God the more you will love God! Spurgeon puts it this way, “Oh, if you knew Him better, you would fly to Him!” Ask God which aspects of the worship service have overlooked or shoved specific doctrine into the corner.

3) Imitate their concern for the local church. The motive of all of this reforming was a deep love for the church. Both men wanted their hymnals to be of service to their local churches specifically. Any blessings that the hymnbooks might have outside of their local congregations were simply afterthoughts. Do you love your church enough to attend to their needs, guided by Scripture or are you trying to shoe-horn in the latest popular worship fad? Are you depending solely on a Worship Industry to direct your worship planning or do you have one ear to Scripture and the other to the congregation? Pray that God would increase your love for your local church. Ask God to reveal to you the “distinctive features” of your congregation and then seek to find the best and most biblical way to serve them.

I mentioned before, these men like Shepherds did their best to guard, tend and feed their flocks. The hymnbooks they produced sought to accomplish just that. This is the duty of all those who lead and minister the congregation. As a worship leader you have the privilege and responsibility to care for your people when selecting and leading songs and when you plan (in whatever capacity) the worship service. Take time to meditate on passages such as John 21:15-19, and the books 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Imitate great men of faith like William Gadsby and Charles Spurgeon and shepherd the flock with similar concern.

Learn More:
Purchase a copy of Gadsby's Hymns and Our Own Hymn-book from Grace and Truth Books
More info as well as some sermons and letters from William Gadsby
Tons of great info and more about Spurgeon can be found at The Spurgeon Archive
Also, I highly recommend checking out Red Mountain Music. They have done an excellent job of re-tuning a few of Gadsby's Hymns.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Effeminate Worship Leader

A Note Before We Begin
Let me start by addressing a very sensitive related topic. I know that churches approach the subject of female leadership differently. Some find it acceptable to allow women to lead in every area of leadership in the church while others don’t even allow women to speak. The Bible is clear that men and women are valued by Christ equally (Gal. 3:28), they are spiritually equal, yet God in His sovereignty designed the roles of man and woman to reflect Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:24). God designed men and women differently so that they would find joy and a since of fulfillment in their particular role (Gen. 2:18). That said, a church that believes the biblical model of the roles of men and women will be shepherded only by men (1 Tim. 3:1-5).

On the same hand, we should also note that churches approach the position of worship leader differently. Some regard the position as a pastoral/elder led position while some regard it as simply a good singer leading songs to help the congregation. Depending on the church’s approach on the worship leader position a church might find it acceptable for a woman to lead worship. So with that out of the way, when I speak of The Effeminate Worship Leader, I am speaking about male worship leaders.

The Effeminate Worship Leader
There’s no real easy way to put it. I could beat around the bush and sugar coat it a bit, but in the end it would probably come off as more offensive than necessary. I’ll try to look at all sides to squash unnecessary offense so that the offense that will inevitably come might be helpful rather than harmful. But I want to address something that I’ve noticed and I am sure many others have observed and that is the Effeminate Worship Leader.

You’ve seen him. You know who I’m talking about. A little too sensitive, overly-emotional, flamboyant is a term that comes to mind. Usually it is seen as just an “artsy” thing. For some reason—and I just can’t put my finger on why—these guys are everywhere in Evangelical Christianity. I know I’m not completely off base because it has unfortunately become a stereotype. But I’m not just basing this off of stereotypes; I’ve noticed it many times personally and have had conversations with others who have noticed it as well. In some circles it has become a kind of in-house joke that the worship leader is metrosexual. And a metrosexual, if you are unfamiliar with the term, is basically a dude that acts like a chick (ie. effeminate). To make my point here’s a link to a humorous Christian satire site that provides a scorecard so you can rate how metrosexual your worship leader is. (I scored a 4 out of a hundred some points by the way…)

I know this isn’t a politically correct topic, but to me, it is a serious one. We can laugh it off with a wink, wink and giggle about it behind closed doors but there comes a time when leaders need to have their feelings hurt and be told to act like a man for the good of the church, the good of the gospel, and for the glory of God.

The War on Masculinity
Our culture is inundated with the lie that there is no difference between male and female. Everything is rapidly becoming gender-neutral. Actually it is more than being gender-neutral; plain and simple our culture is striving to become genderless. And one of the best ways to become genderless is to remove the very trait that has the courage to fight against it, masculinity. Boys are expected to act like girls at school, and when they don’t they get medicine shoved down their throats until they do. Homosexuality is glorified through media, academia, and legislation while any voice of resistance is slandered as hatred, intolerant, backwards and stupid. Feminism has practically stated that their goal is the eradication of masculinity. I could go on but the reality of our culture’s genderless agenda is all around us.

The Lack of Masculinity
On top of the bombardment of masculinity through genderlessness, it is also important for leaders to note the lack of masculinity in our society. Not only is fatherlessness a major problem in our society, but it isn’t even a stretch of the imagination to think how a child can grow up and never have any meaningful connection with a man. It’s easy to picture a child raised only by his mother, who goes to school taught by only female teachers, and perhaps gets a job where the boss is a woman. What’s wrong with that picture isn’t the amount of feminine influence; it is the lack of masculine influence, and that’s the ever increasing direction of our society. The lack of masculinity only fuels the fire for the war against masculinity.

What's the Big Deal?
So what does our society see differently when they go to church? I’m afraid in many cases they see only a mirror of the same effeminate culture. There is a time and a place to discuss the lack of masculinity in the church as a whole, and many helpful books and articles have been written to address this problem but I have never found one which focuses on worship leaders in particular. Though in snippets it has been discussed elsewhere perhaps I might be allowed a bit more liberty since I am a worship leader (and I have long hair too…).

I don’t know if I can put my finger on the exact reason why there are so many effeminate worship leaders. No doubt our society has played a part in producing men who think it’s cool or hip to be womanly, especially when it involves music. It is not uncommon for male musicians to wear eyeliner or paint their fingernails. People think of artists as having strictly feminine characteristics. They are viewed as sensitive, emotional, moody, frail, weak, and soft. In fact, this argument has been presented to me as an excuse for an effeminate worship leader. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it, that’s just how artists are.” Perhaps that’s how artists are expected to act in the world, but not in the church. However, if your worship leader is simply an artist and nothing more then, effeminate qualities aside, you need a new worship leader.

But should effeminacy in worship leadership really be addressed as a problem? Is it more than a pet peeve? Does it actually covey something to those who are being led? The answer to all is yes. If effeminate leadership reinforces a culture which opposes the gospel, then it is more than a pet peeve, it is a problem.

The songs that are sung, how they are sung, the clothes that are worn, and the manner in which one carries himself—whether in front of the congregation or not—all communicate something to those who are being led. And for those of us who are ministers of the gospel we not only represent ourselves and our church, but Christ whom we preach (or sing about). And if we lay aside our masculinity, the world notices nodding in agreement, the devil breathes a sigh of relief, and Christ is put to shame.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect anyone to lead worship with a gun or a Rambo headband. I’m not advocating for anyone to leave one stereotype and pick up another. I’m not saying you cannot be emotional. But what I am advising is to be aware of how you present yourself to a watching world and to not lose hold of your masculinity.

Act Like Men!
Paul encouraged the Corinthian church, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13) Paul is in essence saying, “Don’t act like women!” He is saying; Be watchful, like men! Stand firm in the faith, like men! Be strong, like men! Act like men! This is a message Satan and the world doesn’t want us to hear. It is countercultural. To the world this is just another one of those sexist, bigoted parts of the Bible only ignorant people believe. Their message is this: Don’t be watchful, be open! Stand firm in the faith that is right for you! Don’t be strong, be sensitive! Act like a woman! (By the way, the gender-neutral TNIV tries to side-step Paul and translates “act like men” as “be courageous”)

Men follow men. Women follow men. It is how God has designed us. When Adam surrendered his masculinity and failed to lead Eve, John Milton calls this move “effeminate slackness.” Adam took the route of effeminate slackness and switched the designed roles of man and woman, and when God approached Adam about his sin Adam pointed to the woman like a coward.

Jesus understood that people followed masculine men (and why shouldn’t the creator of the universe understand that?). In Matthew 11:7-9 we read, “Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John [the Baptist]: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes.” Jesus’ point is that the people went out to see a prophet, a truth teller and one who was prophesied about who would point the way to Christ.

But look how Jesus presents this to the people. He asks two questions that are designed to focus upon John’s masculine qualities. “Did you go to see a reed shaken by the wind?” John wasn’t a coward. John was no shaking reed, he was watchful, firm in the faith, and strong. Then Jesus asks a question regarding attire, “Did you go see a man dressed in soft clothing?” It is interesting to note that the Greek word for “soft” in this sentence is malakos, which is associated with effeminacy. John was not “soft” like the king’s men. Neither his style nor surroundings were effeminate. John wore camel’s hair and lived in the wilderness while the king’s men wore feminine clothing and lived in luxury. Jesus assumed the people understood the contrast.

Ministers Need to be Masculine
So while His point was that the people went out to see a prophet, Jesus centered their attention indirectly on John’s masculine characteristics as well as his masculine attire and environment. Why? Now pay attention here; Jesus is linking John’s masculine qualities to John’s office as a prophet. John’s office as a prophet required masculinity. Why? Because no one is going to listen to a cowardly weakling who shakes like a reed in the wind! Because no one is going to take seriously the message of a man who lives and dresses daintily like a woman! The same is true for shepherds and ministers of the gospel today. And if you lead worship by placing words into the mouths of those you lead, assisting the congregation in response to God through Christ, proclaiming the good news to those that gather then you are a minister of the gospel and your role is a masculine one. Even if you are a woman, you are to lead like a man. Deborah was a woman who led Israel in the time of the Judges. When no man would lead, she led like a man.

Can you imagine what the church would look like if her worship leaders were no longer thought of as limp-wristed, girly men but rather strong, watchful warriors who are firm in the faith? Can you imagine how Satan and the world would react? It would be all out war. John the Baptist lost his head. But as it is now Satan and the world are content to leave the Effeminate Worship Leader alone.

So where do we go from here? I have no formulas or methods but for starters let’s take the Word of God seriously. Recognize that God designed leadership roles to be masculine. Resist the temptation of the devil and the world to become gender-neutral or genderless. Take advantage of the great resources the church has produced about biblical masculinity. Raise your sons to be men. Ask God to help you understand what it means to be a man and how to lead like a man and ask others to pray for you. If you have succumbed to the temptation of effeminate slackness or if you tend to be effeminate, then repent and ask God to change you and start to lead your people like a man. Ask Him to root out that which you don’t recognize in yourself to be effeminate. Confide in other believers whom you trust. Remember to rest in the assurance of your salvation in Christ and be thankful for His abundant grace. Then be watchful like a man! Stand firm in your faith like a man! Be strong like a man! And act like a man!

UPDATE 4-14-10:
I have had some requests to put forward what biblical masculinity should look like. Instead of writing a new post I think it would be of greater benefit to link some really good resources to further our understanding of what it means to be a man according to the Bible. Hope these help.

-"Every Man’s Call to Biblical Masculinity" - Day 1 - Day 2Day 3 - Day 4 - Day 5
-"Profiling Christian Masculinity" by Stuart W. Scott
-"We Need Some Leaders!" by Bob Lepine
-"Off with the Skirt, on with the Pants" by R.C. Sproul Jr.
-"The Mature Man: Biblical Perspectives on Being a Man in Our Time" by Thomas Bjerkholt
-"Valuing Biblical Manhood" by John Piper
-"Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood" edited by Wayne Grudem (an entire book on PDF)
-"Masculinity Reclaimed Series" from The Resurgence